Athersys, a small drug maker in Cleveland, Ohio, is using the story of a stroke survivor to promote the development of an experimental stem cell therapy. But by doing so, the company has obscured the treatment’s clinical trial failure.
The story of the stroke survivor, an Oregon woman named Sharon Thomas, is heartwarming. It’s been widely told and promoted through an ongoing, Athersys-funded publicity campaign. Thomas appears alongside Athersys CEO Gil Van Bokkelen in a video in which she explains how, after suffering a massive stroke that left her unable to walk, speak, or swallow, she received the company’s experimental stem cell therapy called MultiStem. Eight days later, she walked out of the hospital, not fully healed but on her way.